The case against Joe Biden: Former VP’s long career shows a recurring theme of 'appeasing the right'

The case against Joe Biden: Former VP’s long career shows a recurring theme of 'appeasing the right'
Former Vice President of the United States Joe Biden speaking with supporters at a phone bank at his presidential campaign office in Des Moines, Iowa. Credit: Gage Skidmore

Following his Super Tuesday wins, we look closely at the record of former Vice President Joe Biden, from his central role in supporting the Iraq War to expanding the so-called war on drugs. We speak with Branko Marcetic, the author of “Yesterday’s Man: The Case Against Joe Biden.” Biden’s approach to politics is based on “appeasing the right” and “taking the platform of his Republican opponent and trying to make it his own,” Marcetic says.

This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

AMY GOODMAN: This is Democracy Now! I’m Amy Goodman, with Juan González.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: Well, we end today’s show with a closer look at the comeback candidate of Super Tuesday, former Vice President Joe Biden, who won nine states, including delegate-rich Texas, while the AP reports Bernie Sanders won the largest prize of the night, California.

AMY GOODMAN: For more, we go to Toronto, Canada, where we’re joined by Branko Marcetic, staff writer at Jacobin magazine, reporter at In These Times, author of a new book called Yesterday’s Man: The Case Against Joe Biden.

He may not be “yesterday’s man” after Super Tuesday, Branko. Can you talk about why you wrote a book on Joe Biden and what you think it’s most important to understand about him?

BRANKO MARCETIC: You know, Biden, very early, when he announced, it was clear he was going to end up being the front-runner. Obviously, he was not only the vice president, a sort of traditional passing of the torch from the previous popular president, and that he was inheriting that popular support, but also he was a guy, similar to Clinton in 2016, who has a lot of intraparty support. And, you know, I felt, if people are going to vote, they should probably be aware of his record, particularly African-American voters, who, I argue in the book, Biden has really systematically betrayed, even though he’s gained their support year after year, election after election.

I think the main thing that people need to know about Biden is his approach to politics, which is very much based on his 1978 reelection campaign, which came at the sort of conservative shift in U.S. politics, is based on appeasing the right and sort of taking the platform of his Republican opponent and trying to make it his own and kind of siphon away support like that. And that’s really been the case in every election and really how he’s governed. So that’s why, in the ’80s and the ’90s, you see Biden going actually further on the tough-on-crime and tough-on-drugs messaging than even Reagan and Bush were calling for. Biden was constantly saying that they were not going far enough. He was pushing for a drug czar, when Reagan and even Rudy Giuliani, if you can imagine that, were saying such an idea was insane, pushing for expansion of civil forfeiture and that kind of thing.

And in the '90s, you see him, even though he says in 1995 — he claims, “I'm close to retiring. But the thing that has made me stay in the race is I want to defeat these guys. I want to defeat the Gingrich Republicans that came in '94. These guys are terrible.” And what does he do? In 1996, he passes welfare reform, which was defined by Senate Republican Majority Leader Trent Lott as the, quote, “holy grail” of the GOP's legislative agenda. Welfare kind of disappears really across the South and the Southwest United States as conservative governors use that welfare reform to basically just use the money to put up their own budgets. He passes NAFTA. He repeals Glass-Steagall. He partners with Clinton to try and cut spending and to cut the federal bureaucracy spending, and federal employment goes down to pre-1960s levels, even before — to levels before Roosevelt took power.

And this is really the way it’s always been. Part of the reason why he ended up being the architect, the Democratic architect, of the Iraq War was he was worried about an election. He was worried about being challenged from the right in 2002 by an opponent who could rival him in fundraising, and his safe bet was to sort of go and support the Iraq War, which a lot of African Americans did not support. And, in fact, Biden, talking to a group of African-American columnists shortly — a month after voting for the war — and this is a classic Biden thing, is he votes for something, and he says to this mostly black audience — he says, you know, “Well, I think actually the war is a terrible idea, and I don’t want it. You know, I don’t think it’s going to happen. You know, Saddam and al-Qaeda are not in cahoots at all. That’s ridiculous.”

AMY GOODMAN: We have 10 seconds.

BRANKO MARCETIC: When, of course, he had been saying the exact opposite before. So, this is — as the Republican Party gets more and more extreme to the right, having Biden as president, and even going up against Trump, is a real worry.

AMY GOODMAN: Well, we’re going to do Part 2, post it online at Branko Marcetic is staff writer at Jacobin magazine, In These Times reporter. His new book, Yesterday’s Man: The Case Against Joe Biden.

And that does it for our show. If you’d like to see our five-hour Super Tuesday broadcast, go to

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